Many trophically transmitted parasites with complex life cycles manipulate their intermediate host behavior in ways facilitating their transmission to final host by predation. This facilitation generally results from lowering host's antipredatory defenses when the parasite is infective to the final host. However, a recent theoretical model predicts that an optimal parasitic strategy would be to protect the intermediate host from predation when noninfective, before switching to facilitation when the infective stage is reached. We tested this hypothesis in the fish acanthocephalan parasite Pomphorhynchus laevis using the amphipod Gammarus pulex as intermediate host. Gammarids parasitized by noninfective stage of P. laevis (acanthella) hid significantly more under refuges than uninfected ones. In addition, acanthella-infected gammarids were less predated upon by trout than uninfected ones. As predicted, a switch toward decreased antipredatory behavior of G. pulex and enhanced vulnerability to predation was found when P. laevis reached the stage infective to its final host. The parasites appear to be able to exploit plasticity in host antipredatory responses, and shift the host optimal response toward their own optimal balance.
© 2011 The Author(s).